For my family, and for the people of Gaza, August has been horrific. Israel bombed the Strip on an almost daily basis, making us feel like we were stuck at the epicentre of a never-ending earthquake. The explosions, at times barely a kilometre from our home, were so loud, my two-year-old niece could not sleep at night. Every time she heard a loud bang she quickly gathered her toys around her, as if to protect them from Israel’s bombs.
Last month was indeed horrific, but it was not extraordinary in any way. Israel’s soldiers, warplanes, drones and gunships have been harassing, intimidating, and killing the people of Gaza regularly, and with impunity, for decades. Israel’s attacks are part of the daily routine in Gaza. To be able to survive, and to lead something that resembles a normal life, us Gazans have no choice but to accept as normal the violence being inflicted on us.
Growing up in Gaza, I always felt a sense of emergency. My family was always prepared for the worst, because the worst could knock on our door at any time, as it did during the attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014. As a child, I knew that living in fear every single day was not normal. In my heart, I rejected the normalisation of everyday horrors, because I did not want to lose touch with my humanity. Yet I eventually had to come to terms with the situation I was born into and my surroundings.
Now, my niece and thousands of other children living under Israeli siege in Gaza, are growing up with the same fears and the same sense of constant emergency. As they try to sleep through the sounds of bombs, and protect their toys from the horrors that are just outside the door, they are being forced to accept as normal a violent reality that no child should ever even witness.
In recent years, there has barely been a day in which Israel did not bomb, shoot into, or physically invade what is not only one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, but also a place which has been besieged for more than 13 years, with major shortages of the basics required for normal human life.
Israel’s colonial infrastructure controls the sky above us and the land and sea around us, and is even capable of penetrating into our most intimate spaces to show us its power. In Gaza, wherever you look, you see tools of oppression, occupation and urban warfare – border fences, separation walls, armoured trucks, warplanes and checkpoints shape the landscape we live in. Even when you are at home, the whirring sound of military drones remind you that you are imprisoned, and you can be attacked at any moment.
I believe Israel makes a conscious effort to constantly remind Gaza Palestinians of its presence. By making its occupation so visible, and the power it has over us so obvious, it is sending us a message: We will never allow you to be normal people, and live normal lives.
To Israel, Gaza is not a place where two million men, women, and children call home, but an “enemy entity” – an alien space whose inhabitants do not deserve to be treated with human decency. Israel’s propaganda machine, with help from its allies around the world, works tirelessly to dehumanise the people of Gaza, brand them as senseless, violent “extremists”, and create the perception that Israel’s occupation is “humane” and “civilised”.
Of course, the reality is very different. And despite Israel’s efforts to terrorise us into silence, we, the people of Gaza, are not willing to allow our occupier to tell our story. We turn our fears, vulnerabilities and frustrations into resistance and reach out to the world in every way that we can to expose our tragic reality, demand our rights and shame our oppressors.
Like many Gazans living on the Strip and across the world, I have spent a lifetime fighting Israel’s colonial policies. I have been on the forefront of the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, first in my refugee camp in Gaza, and later Germany. For my efforts, I have been threatened, persecuted, intimidated and even shot at. But I never gave up, because I know resistance is the only way to ensure that there is a decolonised future worth living for me, my family and my beloved Gaza.
But, sadly, the world seems not to be interested in hearing us. Israel’s continuing crimes against the Palestinians have been exposed, over and over again, by journalists, UN rapporteurs, activists and Palestinians themselves. Yet, most world governments did nothing to pressure Israel to stop to this day. Some issued empty statements to “condemn” Israel, and “urge” it to stop its attacks against the Palestinians, but continued to give Israel diplomatic, political and military support. Others chose to remain completely silent and turned a blind eye to our suffering, which is another moral betrayal.
But the international community cannot continue to ignore our plight. The UN said some three years ago that it expects Gaza to become “unlivable” by 2020. Since then, Israel not only refused to take action to reverse Gaza’s rapid deterioration into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but intensified its attacks on the Strip, hindering efforts by activists, NGOs and locals to keep this open prison habitable for a little longer. With the novel coronavirus now spreading throughout refugee camps and communities across Gaza, we cannot afford to wait any longer for the world to acknowledge our suffering and take action.
Every year on May 15, Palestinians mark the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, referring to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the near-total destruction of Palestinian society in 1948. Since that tragic day, Israel’s primary strategic goal has been to keep Palestinians in a state of catastrophe. It has achieved this goal by building a colonial infrastructure to prevent us from escaping its structural violence.
Today, Israel is trying to maintain this state of catastrophe through regular military assaults, daily bombardments and aggressive surveillance. It is trying to force us into compliance by brutally attacking peaceful protests against its occupation and illegal settlement. It is trying to silence us through media campaigns that paint us as “terrorists” and “savages”. It is trying to make us forget our humanity and stop fighting for our right to live freely and with dignity by restricting our access to electricity, forcing us to eat inedible food and drink poisoned water.
Israel has kept Palestine in a state of catastrophe for so long that our situation now seems “normal” to the world. But there is nothing normal about Israel’s continuing efforts to destroy our communal and personal lives.
Palestinians will undoubtedly continue to resist Israel’s colonial policies and build beautiful narratives of grassroots resilience. But we cannot win our righteous, just and moral fight for freedom, equality and dignity without the support of the international community, like it was the case in apartheid South Africa.
This is why we call for the international community to sanction and isolate Israel for its repeated crimes against humanity in colonised Palestine. If the world continues to treat our situation as “normal” and fails to take action, it may soon be just too late to save my homeland and my people.